Cityscape shines amid global gloom

Jumeirah Gardens development worth Dh350bn leads series of ambitious projects breaking barriers of architectural design.

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum (C), Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai,  looks at the model of a "new city" to be built by Dubai government firm Meraas Development on display at the opening of the Cityscape 2008 international real estate exhibition in Dubai on October 6, 2008.  Meraas Development today announced it will build a "new city" in the booming Gulf emirate at a projected cost of 95 billion dollars, shrugging off the global financial turmoil. AFP PHOTO/MARWAN NAAMANI *** Local Caption ***  416677-01-08.jpg *** Local Caption ***  416677-01-08.jpg
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DUBAI // Meraas Development yesterday unveiled Cityscape Dubai's centrepiece project, the Jumeirah Gardens, a Dh350 billion (US$98.2bn) development that will boast one of the world's tallest buildings comprised of three towers linked by sky bridges.

The project by the company, which is owned by the Dubai Government, is considered one of the biggest and most ambitious property developments ever to be launched anywhere - it is expected to be the size of a small city - and comes at a time when the rest of the world is grappling with a deepening credit crisis and falling stock markets. More than 60,000 visitors from 150 countries flooded into the emirate's international exhibition centre at the beginning of the show, itself the largest of its kind on earth.

A cast of international celebrities including Michael Schumacher, the former Formula One champion, added a touch of glamour to the four-day spectacle, where more than 1,000 exhibitors revealed a series of architecturally extraordinary buildings. The Meraas master development includes three buildings by Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill, the Chicago architects who were the masterminds behind the Burj Dubai, the world's tallest tower that will be completed by the end of next year.

But its highlight is the 1 Dubai building, which will rise 600 metres above the ground, and be comprised of three towers connected by sky bridges. The building would be about three quarters as high as the Burj Dubai, located on Sheikh Zayed Road, the emirate's main motorway. "Dubai is always redefining itself," said Sina al Kazim, the chief executive of Meraas Development. "We are going to complement the other developers."

He said 1 Dubai would be Meraas's contribution to the architectural uniqueness of the city. The sheer scale of the project meant it would take 12 years to build. The iconic buildings would be spread throughout the massive development, along with smaller towers and a park that is "half the size of [New York's] Central Park", Mr Kazim said. The developers could not say precisely how many people the project would house, but it will include seven man-made islands to be built just off the coast for mostly low-rise, residential buildings.

A 14km boulevard with a tram system would snake through the project and water taxis would be available on a network of canals. Meraas Development is part of Meraas Holding, a conglomerate that also has hospitality, investment and education arms. Meraas was earlier considering even more dramatic plans for Jumeirah Gardens, including one architectural plan for a group of buildings that fused at the top and rose more than 2.4km.

Nakheel also debuted a new tall tower on Sunday, the 1km high Al Burj, which is planned for the Nakheel Harbour overlooking the Palm Jebel Ali and which would be the world's tallest when completed in 10 years. Major property companies around the world have seen their projects stall due to a severe liquidity shortage, but Dubai developers were pushing on in the opposite direction yesterday announcing bigger, taller and more ambitious projects.

To put the total anticipated cost of the Jumeirah Gardens into a global context, the project is expected to cost almost $30bn more than the financial package put together by the German government to bail out Hypo Real Estate Holding, the country's second-largest mortgage provider. Mohammed al Hashemi, the executive chairman of Dubai's Zabeel Investments, an investor in Sony Corp and aerospace company EADS, said his firm was close to completing a possible acquisition in Europe and would also launch a $1.5bn (Dh5.5bn) property project in Dubai in the coming months. Dubai's Deyaar also unveiled a new strategy to push its expansion plan forward, increasing its master developments here and abroad. In another sign that UAE companies are looking to buy up distressed assets overseas, Markus Giebel, Deyaar's recently appointed chief executive, said: "There are a number of opportunities internationally because of the current market." With a current land bank of 20 million square feet, Mr Giebel said Deyaar's 2009 strategic plan would include moving into countries such as Tunisia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It was also interested in distressed assets in the US. Tameer Holding announced it would develop the world's largest LED screen to be embedded on a commercial tower in the Majan district of Dubailand. Named the Podium, the development would boast a 33-storey-high LED media façade that would be visible from a distance of 1.5km, the company said. The UAE-based luxury developer Zaya announced a community development geared towards children. The official launch of Makani, which means "My Place" in Arabic, is scheduled to take place in March. Amlak Finance and Tamweel, the UAE's biggest mortgage lenders, which announced they would merge on Saturday, said in a joint statement that the partnership would give Dubai companies the necessary financial strength and scale to expand in local and regional markets as well as shelter them from the global credit crunch. Meanwhile, investors also shrugged off global credit concerns. "The UAE has weathered a lot of storms," said Thabet Hashem al Qaissieh, an investment associate at Al Qudra Holding. "We'll get through this one, too. There is a lot of liquidity in the Gulf." * The National